By Lindsey Wojcik
For sisters Bea and Leah Koch, romance is more than a genre. It’s “a community of smart, funny, and engaged readers.” As longtime romance enthusiasts, Bea and Leah have enjoyed interacting with the romance-loving community for recommendations on new reads. It recently struck the sisters that a physical space where romance aficionados could not only shop for books from their favorite genre, but also come together as a community, was not available.
In an effort to change that, Bea and Leah launched a Kickstarter campaign on Oct. 20, 2015 to fund The Ripped Bodice, a bookstore that exclusively sells romance. More than $90,000 was raised during the campaign, securing the funds needed to open the store. On March 4—less than six months after the Kickstarter launched—The Ripped Bodice will celebrate the grand opening of its store located in Culver City, Calif.
Ahead of the store opening, Bea and Leah connected with me to discuss how a romance-only bookstore came to life, the pros and cons of using Kickstarter, and what romance enthusiasts can expect from The Ripped Bodice.
Lindsey Wojcik: How did your love affair with romance novels begin? How has it evolved?
Bea Koch: It started with historical fiction and Jane Austen continuations. Those two lead to historical romance—regencies, specifically. It’s been continually evolving since. Like a lot of romance readers, I go through phases where I’m really loving one author or sub-genre and reading everything I can find before I move onto something else.
Leah Koch: I started reading romance because I wanted to read what my big sister was reading! Isn’t that how all little sisters learn about the important things in life?
LW: What prompted the idea of opening a romance-only bookstore?
The Ripped Bodice: We saw a hole in the market. We thought romance lent itself to an in-store buying experience because it’s so personal. We love getting recommendations from other readers, authors, bloggers, etc. It really influences what we’re reading and buying. It can be hard to find those kinds of recommendations in a store, unless you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore with a romance expert on staff.
LW: The romance genre has certain stigmas attached to it. What's your strategy on embracing or downplaying those tropes?
TRB: The stereotypes have been around for as long as romance has been around, and some people are never going to change their minds. But that’s definitely not the response we’ve seen in the store. We’ve had so many people wander in and ask us what we’re all about, what romance is all about, and we get the chance to share this genre with a new audience. We’re passionate about sharing our love for romance and why we love it.
LW: How did you land on "The Ripped Bodice" name and the terms "fine smut" and "Smart Girls Read Romance" for marketing materials?
LK: The name evolved from Bea’s graduate thesis, which was titled, “Mending the Ripped Bodice.” There is a history to this genre, and it’s something that we wanted to honor while also having fun. All of our marketing strategies revolved around those two things— honoring the past and the present of the romance genre.
LW: What was the process of funding your endeavor on Kickstarter like? The campaign was successful, but what were the ups and downs of it?
TRB: It was a lot more intense than we expected. It turned into a full-time job managing all the social media, and Leah was still in school while it was going on. It was very emotional for us. On the first day when donations started coming in, we were so overwhelmed by the support. Then we had to keep that intensity going for 30 days! The middle was probably the most difficult part, because of the length. Once we hit the final week or so, we saw another bump and that carried us through to the end.
There is a real art, science, whatever you want to call it, to a Kickstarter campaign. We had the help of our incredible publicist, Sabrina Dax, who taught us a lot before we even launched and was invaluable during the actual campaign.
LW: How has the process of opening the store affected your relationship as sisters?
TRB: We’ve always been very close, and it only brought us closer together. To know that your business partner is there for you on every level is a very powerful kind of support. It is also really key to have the emotional support of another person while you are opening a business, and if you grew up with the person, it makes it that much easier. No joke, the only time we argue is when we are trying to lift something heavy.
LW: What roles will each of you play in the day-to-day store operations?
TRB: We are the only employees at the moment, so we do everything. Talking with customers and recommending the perfect book for someone is actually our favorite part of the job.
LW: What can romance readers expect from The Ripped Bodice once it opens?
TRB: A serious business that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
LW: What is something shoppers will be surprised to discover in the store?
TRB: We sell a lot of things that aren’t books! One of our favorite parts of the process was selecting all of the jewelry, cards, art, and thingamabobs that we would sell alongside our books. Many of them are directly related to books and romance.
LW: How will The Ripped Bodice connect with the local and romance community?
TRB: We’ve found social media—Twitter and Instagram, in particular—to be wonderful tools for sharing what we’re doing and connecting with the romance community. We documented the entire process from start to finish on those to platforms, and it’s be so wonderful to have customers coming in excited to see the finished product.
LW: What events do you have planned?
TRB: Our grand opening is March 4 and 5. On March 5 from 4-6 p.m., we have amazing authors Tessa Dare, Rebekah Weatherspoon, and Francesca Lia Block signing books in store. Starting at 6 p.m., we will have live music, treats, and pink champagne! On Saturday, March 12 at 5 p.m., we have Donna Thorland speaking about her new book The Dutch Girl. It is an American Revolutionary War romance, and she will talk about some of the history behind the book and then sign copies. We hope the whole community will join us!
LW: What are you reading right now, and what are you planning to put on your "staff picks" shelf?
LK: I’m reading The Hit List by Nikki Urang.
BK: Daughter of Destiny by Nicole Evelina.
TRB: Our “staff picks” really take the form of our starter kits, which are four books chosen by us to represent a genre. Our “Ripped Bodice Starter Kit” has a book from each of the four major subgenres we stock, which includes Trade Me by Courtney Milan from contemporary, Texas Surrender by Delilah Devlin from erotica, Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare from historical, and Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts from paranormal.
We’ve also asked the authors participating in our first signing to recommend some of their favorites, and we hope to continue doing that.
LW: Name one random fact about yourselves.
LK: I can name every U.S. president in order but only if I sing "The Animaniacs" song.
BK: I’m allergic to bees but my name is Bea.